School board seeks efficiencies

To the Editor:

Every year at the Board of Finance’s Town Hall event, it is great to hear the diversity of opinions and initiatives that town residents are passionate about. I appreciate the board members volunteering their time on a Saturday to listen to their neighbors.

As a current Fairfield Board of Education member, I would like to address a few claims made at the Town Hall event. The Superintendent’s proposed budget comprises 57.4 percent of the town budget. For the 10 years prior to the recession, the education budget increased by 6.95 percent on average, annually. Since the recession hit the Board has, like the town, halted new investment to get by with an average increase of 2.2 percent annually. However, the district cannot thrive with this level of investment into perpetuity as our aging facilities are costly to maintain.

Having such a large district means facility expenditures must be spaced out to normalize the cost burden, which the BoE has strategically done in its Long Range Facilities Plan. Nonetheless, every year a portion of our operating budget has to be rerouted to fund unexpected maintenance issues, such as sewage leaking into a classroom due to bathroom maintenance that was denied from the high school renovation or mold being found behind a cork board or leaking roofs. Most homeowners have a savings account for unexpected expenses that pop up in a year, such as a tree falling on your roof or your furnace dying. However, the BoE does not have a contingency fund to cover any emergency expenses, so those costs come out of programming. This has a negative accumulating effect on the district’s ability to offer programming that is competitive with local districts.

Another common theme is “how can expenses continue to rise while enrollment has declined.” While enrollment is down slightly, it is spread among our 17 facilities, meaning it rarely results in the reduction of classrooms, and therefore, the reduction of expenditure. More specifically, we have more high school students in 2018-19 than we did in 2011-12 (at our overall enrollment peak). High school education is much more resource-intensive and costs 3.5 times more per student than an elementary or middle schooler. The impact is that district-wide our resources actually cost more in 18-19 than 11-12 because we have so many more high schoolers.

As the Chair of the BoE’s Finance and Budget Committee, I can assure you that the district does everything it can to find efficiencies and eliminate waste. Fairfield teachers were the first adopters of the CT 2.0 Health Plan that saved the district 20 percent of its share of healthcare expenses. As a school system, we are motivated to have every cent possible go towards educating children rather than transportation or utilities. We coordinate departments with the town and we regionalize purchasing, where it is efficient. Solar has been installed in six buildings with five others in the works to save on utilities. Moreover, by implementing specialized programming to serve our neediest students “in-house” and therefore, preventing the need of students being placed in a school outside the district, we saved over $1M in 2018 alone.

Our school system is the most important recruitment tool at our town’s disposal. According to the US Census Bureau, the population of Fairfield has grown 4.5 percent between 2010 and 2017, from 59,404 to 62,105. If we want Fairfield to continue to grow, we must keep up with our investment in our schools or every Millennial looking to start or grow their family in CT will look elsewhere.

Of course, we must continue seeking efficiencies and looking at the long term. It is important that we are honest with our neighbors that the state lifting itself out of this fiscal hole means WE pay for that. There is no silver bullet, there is no money tree, WE are the revenue generators for the state. Attracting more businesses is essential, as is looking for new sources of revenue so that we are not cut even more from the state. People love to say they want the state to cut funding, until that funding impacts them. The state has cut education spending and what does that mean? It means as the 16th wealthiest town of 169, we bear a significant amount of that burden. Yet, with an eye to the long term, if we can bear this burden now, hopefully we can rise out of it when the pension liabilities no longer loom unfunded and businesses feel confident that CT has the climate, infrastructure, and workforce they need.

Jennifer Leeper

Fairfield Board of Education

Stopping distracted drivers

To the Editor:

The only thing that will stop a distracted driver is another driver, this time a police officer at the wheel of a police car with an officer sitting beside him with a camera to take a picture of the distracted driver driving distractedly with eyes on the distracting instrument. Pow! Gotcha! Sound the “pull over” alarm. And, prayerfully, the two vehicles, carefully and safely ease over to the side of the road where the driver is given his five-hundred-dollar ticket for illegal driving under the influence of a cell- phone or device of any kind by the tracking officer, and told that the driver’s license will be pulled should there be a decision to avoid paying at any cost.

Otherwise, distracted drivers will continue causing accidents with impunity just as drivers intent on speeding at all cost do, every day, all over the highways, everywhere in the country. An, here in Connecticut our highways are often impacted by lousy drivers who possess a racing driver’s mentality and by State road repair crews who need training in how to manage traffic for highway maintenance or repairs. The latter does not exist in Connecticut, as all lanes on an affected roadway continue to a hole in the bottleneck where all three lanes are allowed to mix and gurgle through, down to one lane.

G. Coulombe